| The following statement issued by the Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka (AGSL)
( November 16, 2014, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka (AAGGSL) is a non-profit organisation with members of diverse backgrounds aimed at creating awareness of the lack of democracy, accountability and good governance in Sri Lanka, in particular due to the executive presidential system. It is committed to positively subscribe to the establishment of practicing democracy and rule of law in Sri Lanka respecting the rights and will of all its peoples.
The democratic space for political interaction in Sri Lanka has been diminishing over time. Politicisation and militarisation of civil administration, over-centralisation of decision making, and practice of graft and corruption have been on the rise. Repression of independent journalists and civil society activists is ongoing. Lack of democratic principles and rule of law, and disrespect for human rights, political rights and religious rights have become quite evident.
A major factor contributing to this continuing deterioration has been the executive presidential system that has led to an increasingly autocratic rule that controls all aspects of socio-economic and political life of the people in Sri Lanka. The Executive President, while in power, is not answerable to the judiciary, and enjoys detrimental influence over the Supreme Court making it somewhat a biased third chamber of government. A great majority of our multi-ethnic, multi-religious polity would welcome substantial constitutional reforms to change course for the better.
The next presidential election is likely to be held early next year, and the campaign work has already begun. Prohibition of foreigners from visiting the North without specific permission from the military; emphasis given to an imaginary war threat; propping up the need to vest power in the current leadership supposedly to preserve Sri Lanka’s unity; making significant personnel changes in the security apparatus; pledging to increase salaries and reduce cost of living pressures; provision of cash, land, jewellery and other graft, incentives and concessions to constituents – all these are forerunners to influence the outcome of an election – presidential or parliamentary, or a referendum to extend the current parliamentary term.
In the elections held since 2009, the executive presidency and the government of Sri Lanka had relied mainly on the military victory over the LTTE and the subsequent economic infrastructure developments for re-election. Similarly, this time again, recreation of euphoria over the war victory five years ago has begun with lot of fanfare, and a fear psychosis has been induced. With majority of the mainstream media under the government’s thumb, only the government’s political campaign can reach the entire country. Nevertheless, the issues relating to democracy, independence of judiciary and good governance appear to have gained prominence in the current political discourse. Such issues, however, are yet to be widely debated in public, as fear psychosis among the people is deep-rooted.
What can we do?
In light of this situation, AAGGSL believes that positively subscribing to the re-establishment of democratic practices and the rule of law is vital. Our road map to achieving good governance in Sri Lanka, inter-alia, includes the following objectives:
1. Promote conditions conducive for a free and fair election
2. Advocate selection of a common opposition candidate for the impending presidential election backed by a common opposition
3. Support the common opposition candidate determined by Sri Lanka’s like-minded politicians, who would pledge to implement an agreed ‘common minimum program’ for consensus politics in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious society
4. Work with the citizenry of Sri Lanka to help build a strong peoples’ movement to pressure the elected president and any future elected government to implement the ‘common minimum program’ including:
a. Abolition of the executive presidential system
b. Restoration of practicing parliamentary democracy, with the head of state answerable to the judiciary
c. Constitutional reforms with checks and balances to protect human rights, political rights and religious rights of all peoples
d. Attainment of a negotiated political settlement with the elected representatives of the North and East to the Tamil national question of power-sharing within an agreed time frame
e. Discontinuation of militarisation and politicisation of civil administration and the unprecedented land grabbing of the displaced without due process or compensation
f. Provision of tangible economic relief to low income earning people
g. Establishment of independent constitutional entities to maintain the rule of law, accountability and transparency, and
h. Enforce measures to effectively curtail bribery and corruption.
Sri Lanka deserves inclusive, good governance, responsive to the will of its peoples. We believe we can make a meaningful contribution to this end.
Our attempt is to underline the significance of democracy and good governance for Sri Lanka and to raise awareness on the relevant principles. Such principles associate with almost every field of life, social, political, economic, cultural and business alike.
What do we mean by good governance?
The fundamental indicator of good governance is free and fair elections with guarantees of freedom of expression, including the right to be critical of the Executive and the government. When people are bribed, coerced and manipulated in an unprecedented manner, how can one count such a vote as free, fair and voluntary expression of their will? To keep a government’s integrity, not only adequate laws against graft and corruption are necessary, but impartial implementation of such laws is essential, as rights can only be enjoyed when there is a realistic means of investigation and enforcement.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) succinctly sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that all human beings, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, ethnicity and national background are entitled to enjoy. These rights are not just a construct based on Western ideals. They have deep roots in the traditions of all peoples. Human rights only have meaning when they can be enjoyed in a practical sense. Simply by reason of being human, every human being is entitled to universal human rights codified by the UN legal framework covering civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.
Democracy and good governance refer to the protection of civil and political rights and economic and cultural rights, such as the rights of minority communities. Democracy becomes hollow without the protection of civil and political rights, and governance becomes bad without the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Good governance is defined as ‘the transparent and accountable management of a country’s resources for its equitable and sustainable economic and social development’. Essential ingredients of good governance consist of democratization, rule of law and respect for human rights. Good governance aims at achieving justice, and needs to be nurtured for ensuring respect for human rights. Assurances of protection of human rights will remain hollow, without the rule of law, independent courts and other social institutions that are essential components of good governance. Good governance is democratic governance, that values:
• Human Rights - respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms of people
• Civil Liberties - allowing people to live with dignity, freedom and justice
• Egalitarianism – a society free of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion or any other attribute
• Inclusiveness - people having a say in decisions that affect their lives
• Accountability - people can hold the decision-makers accountable
• Fairness - social inclusion and fair rules, institutions and practices governing social interactions
• Gender Equality - women are equal partners with men in private and public spheres of life
• Farsightedness – forward-looking policies to reflect the needs of future generations, and
• Socio-economic policy development - responsive to people’s needs and aimed at eradicating poverty and improving the socio-economic status of the disadvantaged.
Recognition of the inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace. History teaches that transparent, responsible, accountable and participatory governance is a prerequisite for lasting wellbeing of a nation. Only Good Governance will bring enduring peace and prosperity.